Where Were You?
Like most adults, I guess, I was at work. I had a meeting scheduled at 8:30 and after about 20 minutes when nobody showed up I called the meeting's organizer and asked her what the deal was. She said "sorry, I'm just so caught up in this World Trade Center thing," and that is how The Day That Changed Everything first entered my consciousness.
I knew it was big when I couldn't connect to cnn.com - when their servers are overloaded you know it's a big news day. We heard the same half-truths and non-truths as rumor spread in the first 20 minutes of chaos. Our accountant ran home and brought in a TV and we congregated in a corner conference room and sat, and stood, slackjawed, at the images that unfolded before us.
Images that are seared forever in my memory: a building afire, thick, acrid, ebony-black smoke spewing out of the top third of it. And not just any building - the World Trade Center, for God's sake - gargantuan symbol of, and paean to, commerce, the almighty American Dollar, and by extension our great nation itself.
One of our salespeople was also a local firefighter (find me a fireman without a second job and...and...well it doesn't matter, they ALL have second jobs) and I remember asking him how much time a person had in smoke that thick and hot.
He thought for a moment and said, "One breath - maybe two."
We sat and watched as the attack - for by now we knew that's what it was - went on. The buildings burned; we heard stories of other planes being hijacked; a plane hit the Pentagon. The PENTAGON, for Chrissake. These guys certainly knew their symbolism!
There was confusion within the halls of power - here in Massachusetts various politicians came on to say that a local election was taking place, others said it wasn't. The President was on Air Force One - first here, then there, spiriting President Bush to various points of safety.
They pulled EVERY SINGLE AIRCRAFT out of the sky. Landed them all.
Then after an hour or so of intense heat and metal stress, we watched in abject horror as first one tower then the other succumbed to the indignities foisted upon them, and they fell. Just collapsed like an old Vegas casino. The only difference is, each collapse took place while hundreds of live human beings still occupied the towers. In those several seconds, albeit shrouded in thick poisonous smoke, we witnessed the mass murder of thousands of souls, whose greatest offense to Islam or anyone else for that matter was getting up that morning and going to work, to conduct business, or serve food, or to clean, or to guard. My boss at the time watched the first tower collapse and put his hand to his open mouth in a gesture of horror, shock and revulsion that, like so many snapshot images of that day and the days to come, I will never forget as long as I live.
Then it was over, if over you could call it. The wreckage steamed and smoked from a dozen underground fires while rescue workers frantically looked for survivors, moving cement and girders with their bare hands. Fire crews from around the region and around the country came to the site by the busload to spell tired rescue workers and to show sympathy and solidarity. Charity of every stripe poured in. Whatever the current rumor had the rescue workers needing, it poured in by the truckload: Gloves. Masks. Dog food. Oxygen. Blood. Everybody wanted to give blood. The Red Cross had to turn people away!
And we mourned. All of us. We mourned for the lives of the fallen, and their families. We mourned for the death of a lifestyle we all instinctively knew was gone forever. We mourned for police and fire crews, those who ran in while everyone was running out. The overarching emotion for most people was not anger - it was sadness. Tears were everywhere. Dan Rather crying on Letterman. Jon Stewart crying on his own show. And how could we ridicule them? We were crying right with them.
Much has happened in the shadow of the events of September 11, 2001. Some of it good, much of it not so good. I'm not going to turn this post into an invective-laden polemic against anyone or anything, except perhaps the vermin who perpetrated this horrific crime against the innocent.
But in the aftermath of that day, the nation stood together, and most of the world stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States. We lost that too, which is also something deserving of mourning.
My People - the Jews - get together every April for Passover. The whole idea of Passover is to retell the story of when the Jews were slaves to the Pharaoh, so that it never happens again and we remain a free, albeit nebbish and neurotic, people.
We can learn a lesson from Passover if we apply the same philosophy to 9/11 and retell the story every year - shed real tears for the fallen until all passes into distant memory and we spill a drop of wine for them - and never, ever forget the events of that horrible day, when everything changed.